The H-1b Visa Immigration Process: How an employer can bring in a temporary professional worker to the U.S.
The H-1B program is a prompt, lawful way for U.S. companies to employ foreign-born professionals on a temporary basis. The employer must demonstrate that the position is one requiring a professional in a specialty occupation and that the intended employee has the required qualifications. A specialty occupation requires theoretical and practical application of a body of specialized knowledge along with at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. For example, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology, and the arts are specialty occupations.
Under current law, there is an annual limit of 65,000 aliens who may be issued a visa or otherwise provided H-1B status. Also, up to 20,000 additional H-1B slots are available to graduates of US masters degree (or higher) programs. There are some types of jobs that are exempt from the H-1B cap.
Because the cap may be reached quickly, it is recommended that petitions be file on the first day the H-1b visa’s become available. Petitions for positions starting on or after October 1, 2012 may be submitted up to 180 days ahead of the requested start date. In other words, applications for the next quota of H-1B visas (excluding the new 20,000 slots for graduates of US educational programs) will be accepted beginning April 1, 2011.
It is important to note that not every H-1B applicant is subject to the cap. Visas will still be available for applicants filing for amendments, extensions, and transfers. The cap also does not apply to applicants filing H-1B visas through institutions of higher education, nonprofit research organizations, and government research organizations. Physicians taking jobs under State 30 or federal government agency waivers based on serving underserved communities are exempt from the H-1B cap.
After an offer of employment is made, the petition process begins. The first step is for the petitioner to ensure that the worker will be paid the prevailing wage paid to similarly employed workers in the geographic area where the beneficiary will be employed. The employer must also be sure that it is not paying less than the actual wage paid to its other employees with similar qualifications. The prevailing wage can be determined through a private wage survey or through a state Employment Security Agency. The benefit of relying on a state wage determination is that it cannot be challenged later by the US Department of Labor.
Once the wage information has been obtained, a Form ETA 9035 Labor Condition Application (LCA) must be submitted to the US Department of Labor. On this form, the employer must submit the wage to be paid, the prevailing wage, and must make certain attestations. The form is submitted by the web or by fax and the Department of Labor only reviews the form to make sure it is properly completed. It does not look to see whether the information is accurate and instead investigates a small percentage of cases where violations of the regulations appear to be occurring.
The certified LCA petition is submitted to USCIS as part of the H-1B petition package. Other information that should be included in USCIS petition includes documentation of the beneficiary’s qualifications, the petitioner’s type of business, and the type of work the beneficiary will be performing. The purpose of the LCA is to ensuring that US wages are not depressed by the hiring of foreign labor and that foreign workers are not exploited.
Obtaining an LCA is only the first step in the H-1B process. The application for an H-1B visa must present evidence that will convince USCIS that the employer has a legitimate need for a “specialty occupation worker”, the position offered is in a “specialty occupation” and the prospective employee is qualified for the position.
One very important provision in AC21 is the “portability” provision, which eases the process of changing jobs. Under it, H-1B workers can begin working for a new employer as soon as the new employer files an H-1B petition for the worker. In the past, the worker had to wait for the petition to be approved before he could begin working for the new employer. Because this provision applies to petitions for new employment filed before or after the enactment of AC21, workers for whom a new petition was filed can begin work for the new employer immediately.
To take advantage of the portability provision, the worker must be in the US pursuant to a lawful admission, and must not have engaged in unauthorized employment since that admission.
Under current law, an alien can be in H-1B status for a maximum period of six years at a time. After this time, an alien must remain outside the United States for one year before another H-1B petition can be approved. Certain aliens working on Defense Department projects may remain in H-1B status for 10 years. Additionally, certain aliens may extend their status beyond the 6-year period in one year increments.
H-1B aliens may only work for the petitioning US employer and only in the H-1B activities described in the petition. The petitioning US employer may place the H-1B worker on the worksite of another employer if all applicable rules (such as the Department of Labor rules) are followed. H-1B aliens may work for more than one US employer, but must have a Form I-129 petition approved by each employer.
H-1B employees may apply for a change of status from one employer to another. The application process is fairly similar to applying for a brand new H-1B except that the process can be completed in the US without a trip abroad to a US consulate.